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Impeachment of the U.S. President

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April 27, 2019

Why in news?

  • The recent investigation report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, favouring Mr. Trump.
  • With this, signs of taking up impeachment proceedings against the U.S. President are seen in the US Congress.

What are the grounds for impeachment?

  • As per the US Constitution, the President can be removed from office by the Congress.
  • It can be done for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
  • But exactly what all these mean is unclear.
  • As per various observations, the following were suggested at different periods -
  1. an impeachable offence was whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a particular moment
  2. Congress could look beyond criminal laws in defining “high crimes and misdemeanours”
  • Historically, it can encompass corruption and other abuses, including trying to obstruct judicial proceedings.

How is impeachment carried out?

  • The term impeachment is often interpreted as simply removing a president from office, but that is not strictly accurate.
  • Technically, it refers to the 435-member House of Representatives approving formal charges against a president.
  • The House effectively acts as accuser - voting on whether to bring specific charges.
  • An impeachment resolution, known as “articles of impeachment,” is like an indictment in a criminal case.
  • A simple majority vote is needed in the House to impeach.
  • The Senate then conducts a trial.
  • So, House members act as the prosecutors and senators as the jurors.
  • The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presides over the trial.
  • A two-thirds majority vote is required in the 100-member Senate to convict and remove a president from office.

What is the proof of wrongdoing?

  • In a typical criminal court case, jurors are told to convict only if there is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
  • However, impeachment proceedings are different.
  • The House and Senate can decide on whatever burden of proof they want.
  • There is no agreement on what the burden should be.

What is the Supreme Court's power?

  • America’s founders explicitly rejected making a Senate conviction appealable to the federal judiciary.
  • They clearly decided this as a political process and it is ultimately a political judgment.
  • In other words, the Supreme Court cannot overturn the impeachment.

Had there been successful impeachments before?

  • No U.S. President has ever been removed from office as a direct result of impeachment and conviction by the Congress.
  • President Nixon quit in 1974 rather than face impeachment.
  • Presidents Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 were impeached by the House.
  • But both stayed in office after the Senate acquitted them.

What are the present chances of impeachment?

  • Right now, there are 235 Democrats, 197 Republicans and 3 vacancies in the 435-member House.
  • Going by simple majority, the Democratic majority could vote to impeach Trump without any Republican votes in the House.
  • The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with Democrats.
  • Conviction and removal of a president would require 67 votes in Senate (two-third majority).
  • So for Trump to be impeached, at least 20 Republicans and all the Democrats and independents would have to vote against him.
  • In case if a Senate conviction removes Trump from office, it would elevate Vice President Mike Pence to the presidency for the remaining term.


Source: Indian Express

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